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Classics

4671Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 180
Year: 1925
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

I remember being assigned this book in high school, reading the first two pages, and thinking, oh, hell no. There was no way I was getting through this one. I don’t think I even bothered to read the Sparknotes. I always planned to read it someday, though as it increased in popularity and eventually reached hipster status, I got a sort of satisfaction out of being able to say I had never read it. Yet, the intern director here at Writers House, who has become familiar with the concept of the book I’m writing (though I have yet to send him the full manuscript) suggested I give it a go, as he thinks my characters and their relationships are rather parallel to those in The Great Gatsby. I think he may be correct. In any case, I did in fact enjoy this.

I don’t much care for history, but I was really intrigued by the way the style of this book made me really think about life in America in the 20s. I think a lot of people have this idea that life in the past was so much simpler than it is today. Living in the Age of Information is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to trade in my iPhone for the flip phone I had back in 7th grade (though I want to make it known that I still have an iPhone 5c so I am kind of on the low end of smartphones). I’m not anti-technology in the least–I love being able to stay constantly connected to the people I love who live far away from me, and I wouldn’t want to be living in any other time period. Yet, the pressures of social media can be exhausting, and sometimes I do feel like I just want it all to go away. And I think novels like The Great Gatsby emphasize the idea that life before smartphones was simpler just because of the style and format. The dialogue and descriptions are straightforward, and the novel itself is very short. Nick tells us what is, and we infer the rest from his tone and from what we know about people without even realizing we’re doing it. So as I read this, I thought about what a simple life the characters had, and it took a while for me to step back and realize that I think I was wrong. Human beings are human beings regardless of the time period, and we are simple and complicated all at the same time, and we face the challenges of our day. Probably. I’ve never lived in another time period, so I suppose I can’t know for sure. Maybe I’ll ask my grandma.

Anyway, I was really captured by the voice of Nick and by his role as an observer. I loved the implications and the theme of the way people act versus the way they really are, and I loved the way the sparseness of this novel made all of that so striking. Though I’d say the best part of this book for me was the commentary on gender and race, and I wonder if Fitzgerald thought those issues would still be so pertinent nearly a hundred years in the future. I suppose I didn’t give it a full five stars because I didn’t totally grasp exactly what happened at the end and had to Google it, as one does in the Age of Information. Beautiful technology.

As I always say, I love a book that makes me think. Perhaps soon I’ll watch the movie version of this. I don’t believe it deserves the hype that hipster nerds give it, but I’m glad I read it. I feel as though it may have initiated a classics kick in me, though I just finished watching the Netflix version of Thirteen Reasons Why, so I am eager to reread that and compare.

5107Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Pages: 277
Year: 1951
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown; Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. […] His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

Yes, I have an English degree, and I only just read this book for the first time. People were always baffled when I told them I hadn’t read this one, but now I have, so I guess I’m a normal person now. What pushed me to read it was my interview with Writers House. The director of the program told me it’s his favorite book, and I ended up being selected as an “alternate,” but that’s a different story. I wish I had read it in high school, because I would love to know how my teenage self would have responded to it. Unfortunately, all I can discuss is now.

I think I really liked the stream of consciousness style, and I liked that there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a problem, and there was a character solving the problem, but it wasn’t a plot in the usual sense. I say I think I liked it because I’m not totally sure, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that I liked it. I know that a lot of people think Holden is a whiny emo bitch, and I see that. Whenever he complained about people who like movies, I wanted to smack him. But the reason I can’t say I like this book overall is his attitude towards women and girls. I do not care what time period this was written in, let me make that clear. I do not care. I don’t care if it’s the year 2000 B.C., you cannot talk about girls the way Holden does. He constantly talks about how “most girls” are stupid and “phony” (as apparently everyone is in Holden’s world) and blah blah, and I won’t have it.  And he even starts talking about how whenever he tries to have sex with girls, they want him to stop, and he does, but he talks about how he shouldn’t stop, and he wishes he wouldn’t, but he does anyway. He really makes it out to be a negative thing that he isn’t constantly sexually assaulting girls, and it’s horrific. Sure, it’s good that he’s not doing it, but everything about his mindset is wrong.

Another thing that’s rather infuriating is something I’ve found in some reviews on Goodreads. By the second half of the book, I had picked up on the fact that Holden clearly suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve talked about this illness a lot because I was given my diagnosis this March, although I’ve known I have it since I was eighteen. I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. It’s clear in the way that he professes his love for Sally and a paragraph later he hates her, and he does this with multiple characters. (It’s called “splitting”.) It’s clear in his impulsive behavior, like when he suddenly decides to leave Pencey, and later on when he suddenly decides to hitchhike out west and then suddenly decides to not do that, and he’s constantly having suicidal thoughts. A little thing I picked up on too is when he hangs out with this guy who he mentions says the word “certainly” a lot, and after that, Holden uses that word with increasing frequency. Because of a Borderline’s unstable sense of self, they tend to mirror the people that they’ve most recently spent time with. What infuriated me in the reviews is that people are swearing up and down that he can’t have BPD because he loves his sister, and Borderlines have no empathy. Excuse me?? Let me introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister:

Her name is Jane, and she’s turning eight years old next week. She is technically my half-sister, but she is basically my own child, and she has been the light of my life since the day she was born when I was fourteen. I do not know what kind of life I would be living if I didn’t have her. I don’t know if I would be living at all. Everything I do, I do for her, and it will always be that way. So I don’t want to hear for one second that Borderlines can’t love or can’t feel empathy. The whole thing about being a Borderline is that you feel EVERYTHING and you feel it hard, and while that can be mostly sadness and anger and guilt and fear, it is also love and happiness. I get to love Jane as fiercely as I do because I am a Borderline. I just really hate people who act like they know everything about mental illnesses when they actually know nothing.

Back to the actual book: I think I would be giving this a much higher rating if the whole girls/sex thing hadn’t really ruined it for me. You couldn’t have just cut that one paragraph, Salinger? Disappointing. But like I said, I liked the style, and I’m glad that I read it so at least now I can say that I have. Happy reading, friends! (Also, guess who liked my last review? Hint: it’s the author of the book!)

395040Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Pages: 244
Year: 1963
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

While reading The Bell Jar, I had the same thought I had while reading Girl, Interrupted, which is that someone must be stalking me and wrote a book about my life. Just cross out Esther Greenwood and write Kate Conroy in its place, and it’s a biography, except I haven’t actually had a cool publishing internship–only in my wildest dreams. I don’t know if it’s just because I relate to her so much, but I could really feel everything she felt as I was reading. Her pain was my pain, her confusion, my confusion, her crises mine as well. I actually had no idea going into this what it was about at all. (For someone with an English degree, I am painfully ignorant when it comes to the plots of classic novels. What happens in The Catcher in the RyeHamletThe Great Gatsby? I honestly have no clue.) In any case, I was very pleasantly surprised when all of a sudden it becomes clear that Esther is, like, so mentally unstable. But the best part is how calm her voice is, because, at least for me, that’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been. It’s waking up and thinking, “Hmm, yep, I’d really love to be dead right now.” And sure, sometimes it comes in typical outbursts of insanity, but mostly it’s calm, because these feelings are so constant, and it’s so exhausting to be breaking down 24/7, and after breaking down you sort of realize that that behavior didn’t change anything, you don’t feel any better, and now you’ve just embarrassed yourself and tired yourself out. You become like a boiling pot with a lid over it.

Well, now that this review has gotten so depressing, I’ll just say if it wasn’t clear that I think this is a phenomenal book that I will certainly read again. And now I shall be popping out to the library to pick up Girl, Interrupted because this put me in the mood for it.

18131Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Pages: 211
Year: 1962
Publisher: Yearling Books (Random House)
Time taken to read: 8 hours
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. “Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”. Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

This was one of those books that supposedly everyone reads in middle school but I just never happened to be in a class that read it, so I always wondered about it. I was at my mom’s house for Thanksgiving, and my mom had it in her living room, which is not odd since she teaches middle school. I had finished the book I brought to read during the holiday so I picked this one up Friday morning and finished it that evening.

Mostly I just thought this book was really weird. It sort of felt like the author was making it up as she went along and was very bored and kept putting down whatever random strange thing she thought of next. It was certainly a very creative story, as were a lot of the descriptions and things. I also really liked Meg as a character. I loved her anger. I could feel it, and I can imagine so many middle school girls feeling it too. In a good way, of course. She was angry about something she cared about. She was passionate and potentially inspiring. She really seemed complex in a way that other young teenage female characters are not.

My favorite part was when they first land on the planet Camazotz and they realize that all the children are playing with the same rhythm. That is a freaky image. I liked the way the enemy here was a lack of uniqueness and independent thought. I feel like this book is full of good messages for young readers. And the science-y stuff was cool too. The edition I read had a little piece in the back about the science behind the ideas in A Wrinkle in Time, and I learned a little something about black holes and String Theory. Although it wasn’t amazing, I definitely see myself giving this book to my kids in the future.

7505716Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories
Author: Lewis Carroll
Pages: 1160
Year: 2010
Publisher: Barnes & Noble (Collectible Editions Series)
Time taken to read: 2 years, 9 months, 22 days
Rating: N/A

Goodreads synopsisDown the rabbit-hole and through the looking-glass! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories features all of the best-known works of Lewis Carroll, including the novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, with the classic illustrations of John Tenniel. This compilation also features Carroll’s novels Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, his masterpiece of nonsense verse “The Hunting of the Snark,” and miscellaneous poems, short stories, puzzles, and acrostics.

This book was a gift from my ex-girlfriend on my 18th birthday. I started reading it soon after that. I am now 21. Yes, this took me a very, very long time to get through. It has been listed on my Goodreads account as “currently reading” essentially since I created my account. I’m not giving it a rating because I have no judgment to pass on a collection of writing this old. Obviously the styles are completely different from what would be published today, so I can’t really give criticism.
I will admit that I skimmed quite a few sections of this book, either because they were practically written in Old English or because I couldn’t make sense of them at all. However, most of the writings were really wonderful. I had never heard of Sylvie and Bruno before reading it here, and although I couldn’t really follow any sort of plot most of the time, it seemed to be a really sweet story. And there were some really random and fun pieces, like riddles and puzzles and weird essays on things like “how to write a letter”. Basically this is a really nice collection to take your time through. As a long-time fan of Alice in Wonderland, it was really cool to gain an understanding of the full extent of Carroll’s career as a writer.